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Every summer since 2004, pro skier Ingrid Backstrom has flown to the southern hemisphere, a place where cold and snow is just a day's travel away. With her winters spent filming with Matchstick Productions and Sherpas Cinema, her summers have consisted of coaching at Chris Davenport's Ski With the Superstars camp and exploring the Andes. But this year, for the first time Backstrom is branching out into her own camp, hosting a women's specific camp in La Parva, Chile, this August. With resorts in the Andes receiving their first dusting of snow, I chatted with Backstrom about her new camp, the difference between men and women's learning styles, and the slow-paced life in Chile.
You've been going to South America for the last several seasons. What keeps you going back?
I keep returning to South America above all for the skiing, but also for the culture, the people, and the overall experience. The Andes are incredible -- huge mountains with great snow, long steep runs, and condors soaring above a high alpine environment. Further south you have volcanoes, which are pretty spectacular in a different, prehistoric way. It feels like a dinosaur might cruise by at any time.
This is the first year you'll be hosting your own camp in Chile. How did that come about?
I had met David Owen from PowderQuest (in Chile) several times and he always has a great thing going. He lives down there with his family and really knows Chile well and has a ton of respect for the culture and skiing, and wants people to enjoy it as much as he does. When he wanted to partner up on a women's camp, it was a really easy decision, especially because it would be at La Parva. I have gone there the last three years and it is just awesome -- a perfect set-up for a camp where people can enjoy South America while improving their skiing and getting into the sidecountry. La Parva is ideal for working your way up slowly, which is great for the camp format. There's everything from five-minute to hour-long hikes, small chutes to big chutes, and cool natural features.
|This could be you. Ingrid Backstrom in Chile.|
Popularity of women specific camps has grown in recent years. What do you think is the benefit of them over traditional camps?
Women and men, for the most part, approach skiing differently. I find that women in general take a more cerebral, tactical approach to skiing so right off the bat a women's only camp makes for a teaching and learning experience that is more specific than traditional camps. The second thing I've found is that skills progress relative to what your similar peer group is doing -- a woman is more likely to look at what another woman is doing and feel inspired to try it, whereas if she sees a guy doing something she might think, 'Oh, I could never do that.' These things are changing, of course, but it makes sense to work along the lines of how our brains and bodies work right now.
There's a certain level of patience needed to succeed in South America. What advice would you give to first-timers?
There is a different pace in South America, that's for sure. We are so rushed and pro-active in North America. Down south, they are more reactive, I would say. Once you let go of your preconceived notions of, 'But it's my ski vacation, why isn't the lift open now?' and adopt the, 'Have another cafe con leche, go for a walk, and when the lifts do open, it will be just me and a few other people enjoying all of the powder,' you will really become open to the possibilities and the little miracles that happen down there all the time. Smile a lot and say 'Por favor,' and 'Gracias,' and try to order your meals at least in Spanish, even if it just means reading off the menu right above the English translation. And for heaven's sake, carry your ski boots on the plane with you.
Skiing in South America in the summer: skiing luxury or life list must do?
Depends on your level of obsession with skiing. For me, it's both. It's definitely a luxury but it's also a must-do. I mean, if you love winter and if you love travel -- how can you not be curious that there is a whole other winter happening somewhere else? Another winter, in such a cool place -- it's mind-blowing.